Foes unimpressed with Najib’s Umno popularity – By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

The Malaysian Insider | KUALA LUMPUR, 31-Dec-2009 — The whopping 93 per cent popularity rating received by Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak from within his own party comes as no surprise to his political rivals.

Influential PKR elections strategy director Saifuddin Nasution in an immediate respond to the rating said Najib’s fame is not due to the ‘reformist’ image that he’s trying to portray, but rather, caused by instituting a new wealth spread system for leaders within his party.

“Under then president Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the projects were only given to his so-called advisors or better known as the ‘4th floor boys’.

“But with Najib, the politics of reward is good as projects are well spread to Umno’s division and branch leaders hence the popularity,” Saifuddin told The Malaysian Insider.

A recent survey conducted by independent polling house Merdeka Center indicated strong backing of Najib by members of his own party with 93 per cent of them saying the country was headed in the right direction under his leadership.

A total of 95 per cent of Umno delegates surveyed also expressed satisfaction with Najib since he took over as party president. Notably, 66 per cent of party delegates polled felt that Umno had recovered from the problems that led to its poor performance in the last general election.

Saifuddin, who is also MP for Machang, however, said it would be foolish to swallow the rating full without any critical input and for him, his popularity will be unquestionable only if it has been put to the test.

“There is no contest for the party’s second highest leader. Najib’s popularity can only be tested if there is contestation from his No. 2,” he said, referring to the “traditional” spat between Umno presidents and their deputies which caused all of the party’s major crisis in the past.

But not all aspects of the popularity rating is “negative” added the PKR leader.

Umno’s constitutional amendment that would see direct elections for the party’s top posts initiated by Najib could also have contributed to the overwhelming support he receives.

“We know for a fact that the old quota system introduced by then Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not popular among the party leaders and grassroots so the amendments mat have made Najib very well-liked,” he said.

Meanwhile, PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub speaking to The Malaysian Insider said Najib’s popularity within Umno is utterly irrelevant to the electorates as far as he’s concerned.

“It’s got nothing to do with good governance as he has often failed to initiate reforms in key areas. It’s just a survey where he can tower himself,” he said, adding sarcastically that Najib’s multi-million spending on boosting his image “has finally paid off.”